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Brutal, beautiful, surreal

The World Press Photo Exhibition makes detachment impossible

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We often engage with even the most devastating photojournalism as a passive, detached audience. Sure, we enjoy the photographs that adorn our favourite newspapers and magazines, but more often than not a photojournalist’s work serves more as a diversion than as an educational tool or a catalyst for social action. It’s for this very reason that you should check out this year’s most stunning press photography as delegated by World Press Photo in its showcase of the 2007 photojournalism winners, now showing at the Just for Laughs Studio.

World Press Photo is an international non-profit organization that has awarded the cream of the photojournalistic crop for the last 51 years. Its international jury consists of a highly-esteemed group of 13 experts in the field of press photography who conducted the selection of this year’s winners from late January into early February. The jury whittled down the successful photographs from a pool of over 80,000, reflecting the work of over 5,000 photographers. The winners were announced on February 8 for what is considered the highest honour in photojournalism.

For the World Press Photo jury, the aim of the showcase is to exhibit both the diversifying trends and progression of worldwide photojournalism in 2007. The series covers many of 2007’s major events, from the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan’s opposition leader, to eye-gouging basketball players in Utah.

World Press Photo’s website,, includes a fascinating archive of previous winners in addition to the full collection of photographs selected to represent the height of photojournalism in 2007. I highly suggest you take a look at it – but be aware that the images must really be seen in person, rather than viewed over a 12-inch MacBook screen, to resonate with great effect.

Of particular note is this year’s Photo of the Year captured by Tim Hetherington, a British photographer. Hetherington’s snapshot of a fatigued American soldier stationed in Afghanistan palpably portrays the exhaustion of an army and a nation under a state of war. Nonetheless, the selection of Hetherington’s dark, blurred image as Photo of the Year has caused some agitation among critics who claim the photo is less aesthetically coherent than previous winners’. The response of jurist Erin Elder has been that one “can’t ever allow technical imprecision to override the emotional or informational content of the frame.”

A great example of this comes in John Moore’s image of a bomb exploding next to Bhutto’s convoy during the attack that took her life. The photo fails in an aesthetic sense – like Hetherington’s photo, it is dark and blurry – yet it resonates with such poignancy that Moore’s photo secured first place in the singles Spot News category.

As observers we do not share the risks that the photographers or their subjects face, allowing us to remain detached from the rapidly circulating flow of global news events. Each of the photographs in this collection is a reflection on photojournalism’s ability to instantaneously seize our attention and ignite interest in these news stories. The collection asks us to pause and recall what the last year meant for those outside the often too-enveloping world that is McGill University. Ultimately, that lingering quality is at the heart of World Press Photo’s mandate – the ability to make us feel like detachment is a luxury we can’t afford.

World Press Photo shows at Just for Laughs’ Studio (2111 St. Laurent.)